Liberia’s Weah pledges to alter ‘racist’ constitution

Liberia’s recently-elected President George Weah, right, arrives for the opening ceremony of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa. (AP Photo)
Updated 30 January 2018
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Liberia’s Weah pledges to alter ‘racist’ constitution

Monrovi: Liberian President George Weah said Monday he would seek to remove a “racist” clause in the country’s constitution that restricts citizenship to black people, and pledged to take a pay cut in a dire economy.
Liberia was founded by freed slaves from the United States in 1847, who inserted the requirement into the constitution to create “a refuge and a haven for freed men of color.”
Weah said in his first state of the nation address that he believed this restriction was “unnecessary, racist, and inappropriate for the place that Liberia occupies today in the comity of nations,” as well as holding back business.
Calling for that provision to be removed, Weah also called for the ban on foreign ownership on property to also be struck from the constitution via referendum.
“No foreign investor... will be willing to make significant direct investments in our country if they cannot own property,” he noted.
Weah’s wife, Clar, has faced intense criticism for her Jamaican roots in Liberia. She was denied a passport on the grounds she was not a Liberian citizen, and the president called for restrictions on dual citizenship to also be lifted.
The new president, who joked he had only had a week to get his head around the job, also announced he would take a 25 percent pay cut in view of the state of the economy and the suffering of his people, who are some the world’s poorest.
“I am informing you today, with immediate effect, that I will reduce my salary and benefits by 25 percent,” he said to a huge cheer from the audience.
He urged lawmakers to follow his lead in a nation where deputies and senators make six-figure salaries despite a straightened budget, following an announcement of a $3,000 (2,425 euros) spending cap on government agencies’ expenses.
“Our economy is broken; our government is broke. Our policy is in freefall, inflation is rising, unemployment is at an unprecedented high and our foreign reserves are at an all-time low,” Weah noted.
The only way to address this was through a nationwide road building program to increase trade and stimulate jobs, and to invest in education, he said.
Schools and universities were the “constant and major priority during my administration,” he added.
Weah was sworn in last week after a contentious election with former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s deputy, Joseph Boakai.
Sirleaf was present at the ceremony, which Weah said “shows how far we have come as people” after the bitter political divisions of Liberia’s horrific 1989-2003 civil war.
He has given cabinet posts to a mixture of inexperienced but loyal figures from his Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party, along with some key members held over from the former government.


UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Updated 18 June 2019
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UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

  • Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya
  • They have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts

YANGON: The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.”
Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.
The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine.
Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya.
But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.
That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.
The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.
The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”
“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.
The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.
Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult.
But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work.
“If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said.
“I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”
An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.”
On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation.
Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”
All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.
The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.
Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities,” the social welfare ministry said.
Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.
Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else.
They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali,” a term implying they are from Bangladesh.
“They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.